Recently, I read an article about seven rules for a successful NFL team; as I read, I couldn't help applying the rules to fire departments and firefighters.
One of the primary reasons for the IAFC/IAFF Labor-Management Initiative (LMI) is to encourage strong relationships with and trust and respect for each other. When we work together, we have a better team, we have better results and the community receives better services.
I thought about similarities between the two and how the NFL's principles would serve us well and how the communities we serve would reap the benefits. Here is my conversion of these seven principles to the fire and emergency service.
Rule 1: Use the brains you were born with – Chief officers must use their brains; the fire service is technical and political and requires teamwork. You need to be smart enough to know your team and use the proper talent to get a job done. When chiefs realize they can't do it all themselves, they develop trust in their team and confidence that the proper talent will get the job done.
Rule 2: Love what you do – If you don't love this job, find something else to do! If you don't love what we do, it will show. The fire service will suffer, our customers will know it and the department and your career won't be as successful.
Maybe we can't trade chief officers and firefighters as they do coaches and football players who aren't performing. But departments make adjustments all the time to ensure the community, elected officials, chief officers and all firefighters meet the promised level of service the community needs and to make sure everyone knows to do their part to deliver that service.
If everyone knows the rules, they'll perform; if they choose not to perform, they can be held accountable.
Rule 3: Don't stop; if there's a concrete wall in front of you, run through it – Or around it—whatever works. Just make it happen.
This is where rule one comes into play again. You have to be smart; use your brainpower. Talk to each other; find out what interests are needed in your political environment and what services must be provided. Communicate and get help from the right person.
When everyone knows the rules and level of service, the right person will perform! Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you need help, find the help and get it done. Your community deserves it!
Rule 4: Build up your confidence and that of your members – You have to have confidence to pass your recruit training, to become a journeyman firefighter, to be a union leader or an officer.
Whatever you do, don't let that confidence become arrogance.
Your peers and your elected officials will know the difference and your customers will see right through it. Making decisions with empathy and confidence is using your brainpower and the right decisions will be the result.
Rule 5: Encourage competition to bring out the best – Like football players, firefighters are competitive! Use this competitive spirit to better serve your community.
Smart firefighters competing with each other, competing with other companies and competing with other shifts keep your department sharp and always looking for better ways to serve your communities.
If we use the competitive juices in every firefighter, we'll be challenged to find the best way to respond to our community's needs. Don't shy away from competition; it can bring out the best in everyone.
Rule 6: Remain calm under fire – Just like football players, it's your responsibility to remain calm, confident and prepared when the action starts. Your job requires you to enter hostile environments that everyone else is leaving. This takes a special person who has the smarts, the confidence, the aggressiveness and the ability to work as a team member.
We need to remain cool under fire back in the station as well. If you aren't getting along or not part of a team, your performance will show it. The LMI demonstrates ways to resolve differences, so know the rules and resolve issues professionally and you and your team will be successful. If you can't resolve differences, use the rules and make appropriate tradeoffs to make sure every team is strong.
Rule 7: Work well with others and be loyal to your department – Disloyalty is the worst of all traits. The me-first firefighter can hobble any team's hope for success. We know a winning team is proud, happy and productive, so if we use our brains we can figure out how to organize a department, all three or four shifts, and work toward a single service-level goal.
When selecting leaders in labor and management, look for characteristics that demonstrate loyalty to both the department's goals and the team. If members care only about themselves, they shouldn't be leading.
These seven rules for successful fire departments apply equally to firefighters and chief officers. When you work as a team and are loyal to your department, you'll provide quality service to your community. We don't post stats and results or rank fire departments in order of wins (successes) at the end of every season (year). Maybe we should.
What I do know is that if you follow these seven rules, you'll be a proud team member and your community will know its department is working as a team. Your community members will be your best fans and you'll make sure they receive your best team efforts.